By A G Noorani

Modi & Savarkar: Ideological turns

V.D. Savarkar’s politics was a fight against history. Plagued by a minority complex, he was committed to Hindu, not Indian, nationalism, and the creation of a majoritarian polity through democratic processes. Narendra Modi shares that outlook. By A.G. NOORANI

EVERY time Prime Minister Narendra Modi opens his mouth he reveals more of himself than he intends; stress compels self-revelation. The election campaign in Uttar Pradesh brought out the best in Modi. His prize offering was his statement on V.D. Savarkar, a man responsible for four murderous assaults.

Yet, he was convicted only for one; the murder of A.T.M. Jackson, Collector of Nashik, in 1909. He was sent to the Andaman Islands for life imprisonment. There is a particular poignancy about this murder as Dr M.R. Jayakar noted. “Collector Jackson was a reputed Sanskrit scholar and, it was believed, a great admirer of Indians, their language and literature.” He delivered speeches on “ancient Indian classics”.

The next victim was Col. Sir William Curzon-Wylie of the India Office, in London in 1909, followed by an attempted murder of the Acting Governor of Bombay, Sir Ernest Hotson, in 1931, and that of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, for which he was acquitted by the Sessions Court on a technicality but was indicted by a Commission of Inquiry headed by a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice J.L. Kapur. Two features are common to all the four events. In none did Savarkar himself wield the gun. He always conspired, in some case provided the gun (20 in one case) and goaded the assailants. Savarkar covered his tracks and escaped punishment in all the cases except the first.

In the aftermath of his four crimes, Savarkar tendered six abject apologies; four to the British rulers and two to the Indian authorities, in 1948 and 1950. What is more, this patriot repeatedly gave undertakings of good conduct and made offers of collaboration with the British rulers of India for nearly 30 years, from 1911 to 1939. What is it that he is idolised for? What was so heroic about him? A noble vision? Courage? Truthfulness? Nobility of character? Intellectual gifts of a high order?

Poisonous ideology

He is not being idolised for any of these; he is being idolised by persons who share a poisonous divisive ideology he unremittingly espoused—Hindutva and the two-nation theory. He first propounded it in 1923 in his essay Hindutva. He elaborated on the theme in his first presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha at Ahmedabad in 1937. Mohammed Ali Jinnah propounded it in 1940. Since Ahmedabad is a Muslim name, the Mahasabha called it Karnavati. At Ahmedabad, his chela Narendra Modi pointedly refused to wear the skullcap which is worn largely by Muslims. He has since worn a large variety of caps; never this one.

On February 25, 2017, Modi tweeted that Savarkar “was a true patriot who envisioned a strong and developed India”. The last bit in his self-serving gloss. Savarkar did not waste any time on vikas. The “strong” India he advocated was a militarised and militaristic polity under Hindu leadership. He “envisioned” a Hindu India. So did his chela Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who founded the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) parent, the Jana Sangh, in 1951. Modi’s record as Prime Minister reflects their thinking, in word and action.

Consider Savarkar’s abject apologies, humiliating undertakings, even offers of collaboration, and his poisonous ideology with the Sangh Parivar’s outlook and Modi’s thought and action and a picture emerges which should alarm every Indian who cherishes the values of our Constitution and its secular polity. The record speaks for itself.

Savarkar’s six apologies

Savarkar’s apologies, undertakings and offers of collaboration:

1. Savarkar arrived in the Andaman Islands on July 4, 1911. In less than six months his knees gave way. He went on his knees and sought clemency, and tendered an apology. He repeated it two years later. His health had not broken down. Did the spirit give way? That would be a mistaken view, for, as we shall see, the man was bereft of spirit. He has no character. Read his subsequent and abject letter.

2. November 24, 1913. “In the end, may I remind your honour to be so good as to go through the petition for clemency that I had sent in 1911 and to sanction it for being forwarded to the Indian Government? The latest development of the Indian Politics and the conciliating policy of the Government have thrown open the constitutional line once more. Now, no man having the good of India and Humanity at Heart will blindly step on the thorny paths which in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress. Therefore, if the Government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English Government which is the foremost condition of that progress. As long as we are in jails, there cannot be real happiness and joy in hundreds and thousands of homes of His Majesty’s loyal subjects in India, for blood is thicker than water; but if we be released the people will instinctively raise a shout of joy and gratitude to the Government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge. Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?” (emphasis added throughout).

This letter followed a meeting with the Home Secretary Reginald Craddock in October 1913. He made no mention of his moves even to his brother Narayan. The British turned down his pleas but gave Savarkar a consolation prize and made him a foreman. R.C. Majumdar was a partisan historian to the core, as one who belonged to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan school. His book Penal Settlements in Andamans is partial to Savarkar. Even so, he recorded that “while Savarkar had changed his views, the Government view remained the same as before”. Craddock’s minutes after his return to Delhi poured contempt on Savarkar. “He had been instrumental in sending out 20 Browning pistols.” He offered concessions to Savarkar, who received them gratefully, but ridiculed others who had received them (“because very subservient”). Savarkar refused to join a hunger strike in prison. As foreman, he imposed Hindu Raj in prison. “The Mussalmans had been, therefore, fully aware, when I became a foreman, what I expected of them, that I was particularly proud of the Hindu way of greeting and of the words used along with the greeting like ‘Rama Rama’, ‘Namaskar’, ‘Bande Mataram’, so on and so forth” (The Story of My Transportation for Life, page 496).

Pledge to keep away from politics

3. March 30, 1920. Savarkar wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Andamans (for the text vide the writer’s article “Savarkar’s Mercy Petition”, Frontline, April 8, 2005. For other details of Savarkar’s sordid record vide the writer’s book Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection, LeftWord, 2002). The document was provided at my request by the National Archives of India. I quote it in extenso:

“And as to my revolutionary tendencies in the past: it is not only now for the object of sharing the clemency but years before this have I informed of and written to the Government in my petitions (1918, 1914) about my firm intention to abide by the Constitution and stand by it as soon as a beginning was made to frame it by Mr. Montagu. Since that time, the Reforms and then the proclamation have only confirmed me in my view and recently I have publicly avowed my faith in and readiness to stand by the side of orderly and constitutional development. The danger that is threatening our country from the north at the hands of the fanatic hordes of Asia who had been the curse of India in the past when they came as foes, and who are more likely to be so in the future now that they want to come as friends, makes me convinced that every intelligent lover of India would heartily and loyally co-operate with the British people in the interests of India herself. That is why I offered myself as a volunteer in 1914 to Government when the war broke out and a German-Turko-Afghan invasion of India became imminent. Whether you believe it or not, I am sincere in expressing my earnest intention of treading the constitutional path and trying my humble best to render the hands of the British dominion a bond of love and respect and of mutual help. Such an Empire as is foreshadowed in the proclamation, wins my hearty adherence. For, verily I have no race or creed or people simply because they are not Indians!

“But if the Government wants a further security from me then I and my brother are perfectly willing to give a pledge of not participating in politics for a definite and reasonable period that the Government would indicate. For, even without such a pledge, my failing health and the sweet blessings of home that have been denied to me by myself make me so desirous of leading a quiet and denied retired life for years to come that nothing would induce me to dabble in active politics now.

“This or any pledge, e.g., of remaining in a particular province or reporting our movements to the police for a definite period after our release—any such reasonable conditions meant genuinely to ensure the safety of the state would be gladly accepted by me and my brother.

“On all these grounds, I believe that the Government, hearing my readiness to enter into any sensible pledge and the fact that the Reforms, present and promised, joined to common danger from the north of Turko-Afghan fanatics have made me a sincere advocate of loyal co-operation in the interests of both our nations, would release me and win my personal gratitude. The brilliant prospects of my early life all but too soon blighted, have constituted so painful a source of regret to me that a release would be a new birth and would touch my heart, sensitive and submissive, to kindness so deeply as to render me personally attached and politically useful in future. For, often magnanimity wins even where might fails.

“Hoping that the Chief Commissioner, remembering the personal regard I ever had shown to him throughout his term and how often I had to face keen disappointment throughout that time, will not grudge me this last favour of allowing this most harmless vent to my despair and will be pleased to forward this petition—may I hope with his own recommendations?—to His Excellency the Viceroy of India.

I beg to remain,


Your most obedient servant,

(Sd.) V.D. Savarkar,

Convict No.32778”.

4. 1924. Savarkar was brought back from the Andamans and lodged, first, in the Ratnagiri Jail and, next, in the Yerwada Jail in Pune. In a meticulously documented essay “Far from heroism: The tale of Veer Savarkar” (Frontline, April 7, 1995), Krishnan Dubey and Venkitesh Ramakrishnan provide the details of the background to the apology on January 6, 1924. The Governor of Bombay Presidency, Sir George Lloyd, met Savarkar in prison and a deal was struck. “The conditions attached to the release of releases are these: (1) That the said Vinayak Damodar Savarkar will reside within the territories administered by the Governor of Bombay in Council and within the Ratnagiri District within the said territories, and will not go beyond the limits of that district without the permission of the Government, or in case of urgency of the District Magistrate.

“(2) That he will not engage publicly or privately in any manner of political activities without the consent of the Government for a period of five years, such restriction being renewable at the discretion of Government at the expiry of the said term.

“Mr Savarkar has already indicated his acceptance of these terms. He has also, though it was in no way made a condition of his release, submitted the following statement: ‘I hereby acknowledge that I had a fair trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted to in days gone by, and I feel myself duty bound to uphold Law and the Constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the Reform a success insofar as I may be allowed to do in future.’”

The writers reveal the genesis of the last paragraph: “Savarkar accepted these conditions without any compunction. But this was not all. Seeing his spirit broken and willpower completely shattered, the government suggested that he should state that his trial was fair and the sentence awarded was just. At the same time, it told him this was ‘in no way made a condition of his release’. Yet, he went ahead and made this statement, ‘I hereby acknowledge that I had a fair trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted to in days gone by, and I feel myself duty bound to uphold Law and the Constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the Reform a success insofar as I may be allowed to do so in future.’ The reference to the Reform here is to the Montagu-Chelmsford proposals of 1918 which fell woefully short of Indian expectations….”

5. On February 22, 1948, shortly after Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948, Savarkar wrote to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay, from Arthur Road prison. “In the end, I beg to submit that I am now some 65 years old. For the last three years I have been every now and then confined to bed owing to attacks of heart-ache and debility. On the 15th of August last I accepted and raised on my house our new National Flag even to the embarrassment of some of my followers.

“Consequently, in order to disarm all suspicion and to back up the above heart to heart representation, I wish to express my willingness to give an undertaking to the Government that I shall refrain from taking part in any communal or political public activity for any period the Government may require in case I am released on that condition.”

6. In the wake of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact in 1950 on the minorities, Savarkar was detained, along with other Hindu Mahasabha leaders, on April 4, 1950. The usual apology coupled with an undertaking swiftly followed. He would not participate in politics for such time as the government decided. The offer was rejected. A habeas corpus petition was filed in the High Court. On July 13, 1950, the Advocate General, C.K. Daphtary, informed the Court that “he was authorised to state that if Savarkar would give an undertaking that he would not participate in political activities and would remain at his own house in Bombay, government would agree to his release”. Their Lordship made the order of release on July 13 on an undertaking given by K.N. Dharap, who appeared on behalf of Savarkar, that Savarkar would not take any part whatever in political activity and would remain in his house in Bombay. This undertaking was to last a period of one year or up to the next general elections in India or in case of India being involved in any war, whichever event took place first.

He resigned even from the primary membership of the Mahasabha. But, by then, he had begun to move closer to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. “Long live the Sangh as the valorous champion of Hindutva.” On his part, the RSS boss M.S. Golwalkar acknowledged on May 15, 1963, his debt to Savarkar’s Hindutva. The two streams, never far apart, merged.

The history of freedom struggle is studded with stories of heroism. Is there a single record of such sustained treachery as V.D. Savarkar’s six abject apologies over 40 years from 1911 to 1950? That is not all. The apologies were coupled with offers of collaboration. Savarkar met the arch imperialist Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, in Bombay on October 9, 1939, the month the Congress asked its Ministers in the Provinces to resign. Savarkar pledged his enthusiastic cooperation to the British. Linlithgow reported to Lord Zetland, the Secretary of State for India:

“The situation, he [Savarkar] said, was that His Majesty’s government must now turn to the Hindus and work with their support. After all, though we and the Hindus have had a good deal of difficulty with one another in the past, that was equally true of the relations between Great Britain and the French and, as recent events had shown, of relations between Russia and Germany. Our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together. Even though now the most moderate of men, he had himself been in the past an adherent of a revolutionary party, as possibly, I might be aware. (I confirmed that I was.) But now that our interests were so closely bound together the essential thing was for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends, and the old antagonism was no longer necessary.” (Marzia Casolari: In the Shade of the Swastika, Emil di Odoya, 2011, page 172. This work of high scholarship exposes the RSS and the Mahasabha’s attachment to Nazi Fascism.)

Modi & Co. shut their eyes to all this only because, sordid though his record was, Savarkar’s Hindutva provided an ideology of communal supremacy, however flawed it was intellectually and dangerous in its effect on our democracy. Savarkar’s utterances on his release in 1937 have a contemporary relevance. Modi’s speech and conduct reflect them; for, their outlook and ideology are the same.

Fatherland & Holy Land

Savarkar’s presidential address to the Mahasabha session in 1937 was lauded as “the Gita of the Hindu Sangathan”. That is when he showed his stripes: “The best interests of the Hindudom are simply identified with the best interests of Hindustan as whole.” He was for a “Unitarian” polity. “Hindudom is bound and marked out as a people and a nation by themselves not by the only tie of a common Holy land on which their religion took birth but by the ties of a common culture, a common language, a common history and essentially of a common fatherland as well. It is these two constituents taken together that constitute our Hindutva and distinguish us from any other people in the world.”

He amplified: “A definition must in the main respond to reality. Just as by the first constituent of Hindutva, the possession of a common Holy land, the Indian Mahommedans, Jews, Christians, Parsees, etc. are excluded from claiming themselves as Hindus which in reality also they do not, in spite of their recognising Hindusthan as their fatherland, so also on the other hand the second constituent of the definition, that of possessing a common fatherland, excludes the Japanese, the Chinese and others from the Hindu fold in spite of the fact of their having Holy land in common with us….

“From this above discussion it necessarily follows that the concept of the term ‘Hindutva’—Hinduness—is more comprehensive than the word ‘Hinduism’. It was to draw a pointed attention to this distinction that I had coined the words ‘Hindutva’, ‘Pan Hindu’ and ‘Hindu’. Hinduism concerns with the religious systems of the Hindus, their ideology and dogma. But this is precisely a matter which this Hindu Mahasabha leaves entirely to individual or group conscience and faith.”

Savarkar admittedly “coined” a new word, “Hindutva”, to denote a political ideology in order to distinguish it from Hinduism. The Supreme Court, led by Justice J.S. Verma, hailed Hindutva as a “way of life” and Chief Justice T.S. Thakur rejected an opportunity to correct an obvious and dangerous error.

To continue, Savarkar explained: “Let us bravely face unpleasant facts as they are. India cannot be assumed today to be a Unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Moslems, in India.”

You will find this very theme in Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts. He himself acknowledged his debt to Savarkar. India is a British construct. “Territorial nationalism” is false. Everyone born in its territory cannot be accepted as a national. Only those who accept “cultural nationalism”, that is, Hindutva, belong to the nation. That is not an Indian nation but a Hindu nation.

Savarkar made that all too clear the next year, at the Nagpur session in 1938. “If India, because it was a territorial unit and called a country must be a national unit as well, then all of us must also be Indians only and cease to be Hindus or Moslems, Christians or Parsees. So they, the leaders of those first generations of English educated people, being almost all Hindus, tried their best to cease themselves to be Hindus and thought it below their dignity to take any cognisance of the divisions as Hindus and Moslems and became transformed overnight into Indian patriots alone. It was also very easy for them to cease to be Hindus. The Western education had taught them and they had no other education, that Hindutva meant nothing else but Hinduism.”

‘Hindu nation’

He, however, regarded Sikhs as part of the Hindu nation and called Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom as “Sikh-Hindu kingdom”. Savarkar expounded his two-nation theory in revealing detail. “The new concept of an Indian Nationality was founded on the only common bond of a territorial unity of India; the Hindus, for one, found nothing revolting even in that assumption to their deepest religious or cultural or racial sentiments. Because their nation being had already been identified with that territorial unit, India, which to them was not only a land of sojourn but a home, their Fatherland, their Motherland, their Holy land and all in one! Indian Patriotism to them was but a synonym of Hindu Patriotism. Even the territorial unit was as intimately identified with their racial, religious and cultural unit that an Indian Nation was but a territorial appellation of the Hindu Nation. If Hindusthan was called India but continued to be a Hindusthan, it made no difference in essentials and for practical purposes might be overlooked.

“Yes, we Hindus are a Nation by ourselves. Because religious, racial, cultural and historical affinities bind us intimately into a homogenous nation and added to it we are most pre-eminently gifted with a territorial unity as well. Our racial being is identified with India—our beloved Fatherland and our Holy land, above all and irrespective of it all we Hindus will to be a Nation and, therefore, we are a Nation. None has a right to challenge or demand a proof of our common nationality when some thirty crores of us Hindus are with it.

“It is absurd to call us a community in India. The Germans are the nation in Germany and the Jews a Community. The Turks are the Nation in Turkey and Arab or the Armenian minority a community. Even so the Hindus are the nation in India—in Hindusthan, and the Moslem minority a community.” This removes all doubt, all ambiguity.

The Jana Sangh-BJP line on Israel is also based on Savarkar’s attitude. Arabs are hated because they are Muslims. The Jews in Palestine are supported because they are the Arab’s adversaries. It is a perverse and poisonous mentality. He said on December 19, 1947: “I am glad to note that the overwhelming majority of the leading nations in the world should have recognised the claim of the Jewish people to establish an Independent Jewish state in Palestine and should have promised armed assistance to get it realised.

“In Justice, the whole of Palestine ought to have been restored to the Jews. But taking into consideration the conflict of self-interests of the powerful nations in the UNO, their support to the resuscitation of the Jewish State in a part of Palestine at any rate wherein they still happen to be in majority and which includes some of their prominent Holy Places constitutes an event of historical justice and importance. It is consequently to be regretted that the delegation which represented our Hindusthani government in the UNO should have voted against the creation of the Jewish State.”

Savarkar envisaged an India dominated by a political party committed to Hindu, not Indian, nationalism; a majoritarian polity created by the democratic process. “If but the Hindu Sanghatanists capture the seats that are allotted to the Hindus under the present constitution in Municipalities, Boards and Legislatures, you will find that a sudden lift is given to the Hindu movement.”

Savarkar pursued this line at the Calcutta Session in 1939. “Swarajya to the Hindus must mean only that ‘Rajya’ in which their ‘Swatva’, their ‘HINDUTVA’ can assert itself without being overlooked by any non-Hindu people, whether they be Indian Territorials or extra territorials.”

In this scheme, the concept of minorities is obliterated. The Sangh Parivar has consistently rejected this concept. Savarkar asked the Congress to declare that “it recognises no Moslem as a Moslem, or Christian as a Christian, or Hindu as a Hindu; but will look upon them all and deal with them all as Indians only; and, therefore, will have nothing to do with any special, communal, religious or racial interests as apart from the fundamental interests guaranteed to all citizens alike.”

Talking of vote banks, this is what Savarkar advised: “If the Hindu electorate does ever come to its senses, refuses to return the Congressite candidates and returns only the Hindu Sanghatanists in majority, the Hindus can have Hindu Sanghatanist government in at least seven provinces as the Moslems have in the Punjab, Bengal, etc. and the Hindus can capture enough political power so as to be in a position to remove at least 75 per cent of the grievances under which they are groaning now even in provinces like U.P. where they form the majority and the Congress ruled. The provincial police and the public service will be under the command of Hindu Sanghatanist governments and will not dare to trample on or neglect Hindu rights.” Capture power by the democratic process and establish a Hindu state.

The Second World War opened a new opportunity which he seized: “To secure entry for as many Hindu recruits as possible into the army, navy and the air forces. To utilise all facilities that are being thrown open to get our people trained into military and mechanical manufacture of up-to-date war materials. To try to make military training compulsory in colleges and high schools. To intensify the organisation of the Ram Sena.”

It is an insane fight against history. As A.B. Vajpayee said, it gave some Hindus a minority complex. Sample this bit by Savarkar: “Just take up the map of India about 1600 A.D. The Moslems ruled all over Hindusthan unchallengeably. It was veritable Pakistan realised not only in this province or that but all over India—Hindusthan as such was simply wiped out.”

Modi’s inspiration

This very outlook possesses the mind of Narendra Modi. Hence, his reference in his very first speech to the Lok Sabha of a thousand years of slavery, not two hundred years of slavery under the British. As Savarkar urged, Modi would use the levers of state power to install a Hindu polity.

The two-nation theory is sheer poison, whether it is advocated by Jinnah or Savarkar. But there is a difference, which Dr B.R. Ambedkar pointed out: “Mr Savarkar will not allow the Muslim nation to be co-equal in authority with the Hindu nation. He wants the Hindu nation to be the dominant nation and the Muslim nation to be the servient nation. Why Mr Savarkar, after sowing this seed of enmity between the Hindu nation and the Muslim nation, should want that they should live under one Constitution and occupy one country, is difficult to explain” (Pakistan Or The Partition of India, 1946, pages 133-134).

R.C. Majumdar of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan ideology, while rightly blaming Jinnah for the Partition, cited also “one important factor which was responsible to a very large extent for the emergence of the idea of partition of India on communal lines. This was the Hindu Mahasabha” (Struggle For Freedom, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1969, page 611).

One has seen the full play of the Savarkar line in Modi’s election speeches. In Bihar in 2015 and in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. This was not a municipal corporator but the Prime Minister of India who waxed eloquent about communal discrimination in the supply of electricity and provision of cremation grounds.

In the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar warned that it was quite possible to change the form of the Constitution—and thus the character of the polity—by changing the form of the administration. This is what Modi has sought to do in India since 2014—subvert a secular polity. It must be fought and checked. As Ambedkar wrote: “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country…. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost” (ibid, pages 354-5).

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